Understanding How Network Printing Works

Many users get confused by the concept of a print server, so it’s worth exploring before getting into the details of network printing. The simplest way to describe a print server is as a central system to which clients send their documents to be spooled, queued, and ultimately sent to a print device. For example, imagine a case where a system running Windows 2000 Professional want to send a document to a printer attached to a Windows XP system. The Windows 2000 system will partially prepare the document for printing using its installed driver, and then send it over the network to the XP system. The XP system acting as the print server will then spool and queue the document on its hard disk, waiting for the attached printer to complete any preceding jobs. When the printer becomes free, the document prints. The XP system is acting as the print server in this cases because it handles the spooling and queuing functions for another client on the network, in this case the system running Windows 2000 Professional.

In this simple example, the printer was assumed to be directly attached to the XP system – using a parallel or USB connection, for example. However, the actual print device could also be directly attached to the network and have its own IP address. If that were the case, clients would be sending documents to the XP system for all spooling and queuing functions, but the XP system would then forward the items to be printed to the network-attached printer when it was ready to receive them. The moral of the story is that an XP system acting as a print server doesn’t necessarily need print devices to be directly attached to it; instead, the print server is acting as the central authority over printing-related functions such as managing queues and spooling.
When printers are directly attached to the XP system acting as your print server, they are typically installed as local printers on that XP system and then shared. However, the process is slightly different when you want a network client (perhaps another computer running XP) to connect to and use this network printer. The most common way to do this is to open the Add Printer Wizard and select the “A network printer, or a printer attached to another computer” radio button.

After selecting this option and clicking Next, you’ll be presented with the Specify a Printer screen, as shown below. The default option on this screen is Browse for a printer, and clicking Next will allow you to browse for printers in a manner similar to using My Network Places. If you prefer, you can easily connect to a network printer by selecting the Connect to this printer option, and then specifying the UNC name for the printer in the form \\printservername\printername. Many users find this a quicker and more effective option than browsing the network, which can often be slow. Once the wizard has been completed, the necessary drivers will be downloaded and installed on the client system automatically, and the client system will be able to send documents to the XP system acting as the print server.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of 2000Trainers.com. He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.